Community-owned renewable energy projects are not new, but Westmill solar is the first such solar park project. Community energy schemes are widespread in Europe, and in Germany 25% of all renewable energy is owned by community projects. A similar proportion is community owned in Denmark, and both countries have a larger share of renewable energy generation than in the UK. For example, in Denmark almost each town or village has its own community owned renewable energy project, including an 82 MW offshore wind farm that is cooperatively owned.
In this country, pioneer projects such as Westmill wind farm (located next to the solar park) have shown that the model is successful here too and creates numerous benefits for investors and communities. In the UK, most such schemes have mostly been wind farms. Westmill Solar has taken this model into a new technology by creating the country’s first, and the world’s largest, community-owned solar farm.The co-operative has over 1500 members who share a say in how the co-operative is run and benefit from a share of the project revenues. Surplus funds are donated to Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust (WESET), a local charity promoting eductaion about sustainable energy.
The solar park was installed in July 2011 and purchased by the co-operative in October 2012 following a community share offer for £5.8 million. The plant covers 30 acres and generates enough electricity to power 1,600 homes. That’s equivalent to every home in the nearby villages of Watchfield & Shrivenham.
The solar plant is located on Westmill farm, a 190 hectare mixed organic farm that is also the site of the community owned Westmill Wind Farm.